Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Secret to a Weedless Flower Bed. As I have reported before, I am back into "gardening", which for me is cutting the grass, trimming the trees - really ordinary stuff. I enjoy this work, even in the summer when the heat and humidity are exhausting.

Among the things that I like to see in my yard are flower beds that do not have weeds. This also goes for the circular space that I create free of lawn grass around the trunks of trees and in and around bushes of various sorts. The enemy of these areas are the weeds. (The grass can take care of itself, if it is kept watered and well cut.)

I have for years admired the landscaping at the office building next door to our office building downtown. The name of that building is One Biscayne Tower and we officed there during our first five years with "our own firm". The building is about 23 years old, but it is still beautiful. One thing that makes it attractive was the decision of the developer not to build it out to the limit of the real estate parcel. He left a little space at ground level, around three sides of it, for some landscaping. It is not very deep, only about ten feet, I would say. There are some small palm trees, hedges, and even some grass in this area. Whoever does the gardening also plants flowers in part of the landscape area on a seasonal basis. I have often admired how well maintained the gardener kept it and how free of weeds are the flower beds and other areas not covered by grass. I have often wondered what the gardener's secret was about the weed-free flower beds.

My friend, Joe, is the building engineer at One Biscayne Tower, and I often talk to him via ham radio on my morning walks. I had the bright idea of asking Joe to let me in on the secret. He said, "Sure, I'll tell you the secret. A landscape crew shows up every Wednesday at 5 AM and works on the landscaping, including weed pulling, till 7:30 AM."
David Allen Status: the situation at home. Macon and I had a good talk on the telephone about where we are with our respective David Allen projects. He continues to work on that project, as I do. He has a colleague at his office who is working on such a project as well, so Macon gets some good reinforcement.

I am inching along, and am probably doing heretical things. But the main effort at home right now is a set of files in a lateral file cabinet in the garage, which files I have named "the David Allen files". (Macon and I talked about the situation at work as well, but that's for another post.) Each file folder consists of a manila file, which is labeled, and a "hanging" file folder which is not labeled and into which I place the manila folder. The file folders now take up two file drawers. They are mainly in straight alphabetical order. These files are mainly "reference" files, in David Allan's vernacular, and not project files. There are some project materials in some of the files. But right now, I am just trying to get all the pieces of paper that pile up and pile up relentlessly and put them somewhere, somewhere from which I can fetch them, if necessary. That's why I think I am a little heretical at this point, mixing reference and project files, but I have high hopes of becoming a true believer in deed as in word.

On the top of the file cabinet, I have an "in box". I drop into the in-box papers that need to be held in a David Allen file. Every couple of weeks, I go through the in-box and empty it, placing the papers in the appropriate David Allen file. Sometimes I already have such a file, but sometimes I have to make a new one for the item. (For example, we broke open the Honda generator box yesterday, as Ernesto was bearing down on us and I thought perhaps I should take a look at the thing. I took out the instruction manual, read it through, and then dropped it in the "in box". I will make up a file folder labeled "Generator".) This is really helpful in eliminating the piles of papers that so rapidly build up.

The first file folder in file drawer is the "Index" file, in which I keep a list the files. I'm usually behind in keeping the index up. But, overall, its working pretty well.

Carol and I came home at noon yesterday, because of Ernesto, and one of the things we did was go through all of the papers on our dining room table, which has become a sort of Grand Central Station for our house. (The house is full of stuff as a result of renovation. For example, we have no kitchen and all of that is in our dining room and living room and one of the bedrooms.) The stacks of papers on the dining room table had become depressing. For one thing, that's where Carol prepares the meals and where we eat, and we were running out of room. So we hatched a PLAN! We commandeered one of Mary's left-behind in-box/out-box contraptions, a two tiered thing, and assigned one tray or tier to Carol and one tray to me. If we see a piece of paper, mail or whatever, and it looks like the other of us needs to deal with it, then we drop it in the other's tray. If there is something in my tray then I may (a) put it in Carol's tray if I'm think she hasn't seen it (b) deal with it directly myself - maybe put it in the DA in-box on the file cabinet or, and this is my favorite, (c) throw it away!! We felt so good getting rid of those piles and knowing we had a PLAN.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

"Don't Marry a Woman with a Career" What a politically incorrect thing to say. Here's the primary source, it has the "counter-point" view next to it, which, according to the the ABC news article that is the first link in this post, was added a day or two after the controversial one.

Friday, August 25, 2006

WordPerfect to Word. We are getting ready to "migrate" down at the office. Oh, me. Here's one expert's take on the need to do so.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Public Speaking?

This year at RVA, in addition to four Junior English classes, I will also be teaching a "term length" course. This term it will be 12 weeks on "Public Speaking." I have never taught such a course before, nor have I ever taken a speech or public speaking-type course. I do on occassion speak in public, though my parents would probably tell you that I often do this too quickly and not clearly enough (I haven't had any complaints from my students to this effect, however).

Anyway, I would like to solicit the public's advice on what to include in such a course. I've got some books and some stuff to work with, but would appreciate any thoughts or recommendations you might have. Perhaps you've taken such a course before and remember what was particularly good or not so good about it. Perhaps you consider yourself an accomplished public speaker and have salient advice to offer young students. Whatever advice you might offer would be great (beyond the usual "don't say uh, like, and stuff, sort of...").

Thanks!
Petitioning for Life. From one unaborted.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Don't You Wish You Had His Sense of Style...

Keep in mind that it has been over 100 degrees every day for several days, and Aidan decides that he wants to wear his faux fur lined boots! Not everyone is as committed to style over comfort!
(I have wondered, though, if his refusal to wear shorts that day was because of the heat, or just because he liked his turquoise fuzzi bunz so much that he didn't want to cover it up...who knows?)
Kenya Weather. Thanks, MSN.
Obesity Pandemic. In the WSJ today there is an article by a pediatrician about how the "obesity pandemic", as he calls it, is affecting his young patients. That brought to mind my visit to Starbucks this morning. Two good looking young men were in the line ahead of me. They were probably not yet in their thirties. One bought a "chocalate chip" latte of some sort in the largest size. The other bought a "butter croissant" with his coffee. I suppose this was "breakfast". (I also wondered about the redundancy of the label "butter croissant".) Those guys are on their way to carrying around at least 10 extra pounts, if they are not there yet.

I used to think that my dad was "big", as in "husky". I realized that he was just overweight but carried it very well and was well tailored. What did the extra 10 - 20 pounds do to him? He died of heart disease and was virtually disabled for the last five years of his life. We never thought of him as "fat", but he was.

One day, take a sturdy bag and put a ten pound weight lifting "plate" in it, and then just walk around with it from the time you get up until the time you go to bed. See what that means to your energy.

You cannot deal with the calorie problem with exercise. Exercise is important to your overall good health, of course, but it is definitely not the answer to being heedless of calories. Of the 24 to 26 WW points I should limit myself to each day, my two mile walk each morning gives me just one (1) point more to use. That's it. You have to deal with what you are eating.

Maybe I have said this before, but I have found that keeping the pounds off is just about the most difficult challenge that I have from day to day. It is a relentless battle. One day I gain a little territory, the next day I lose ground. I am often ambushed by "special" events, business lunches, parties, church meals. Last week I got to the point where I was ready not ever to go to another church meal. I have such a difficult time at those things, because I lose my focus amidst all the wonderful fellowship. It is very, very difficult.

But not impossible. Just do it.

UPDATE: Making my point.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sweet. Something about this sounds familiar.
But if He already knows . . .

This past Thursday night, Carol and I attended a prayer meeting at YFC HQ. It is an annual meeting that comes at the beginning of the school year. Staff, management, directors, and spouses are invited. During the evening, we took turns praying for each of those groups. To set the stage, Andy, the exec, read Matthew 6: 5 - 14. This is the passage that includes the Lord's Prayer, and is a familiar one. But what struck me this time was the dependent clause in verse 8. The entire verse reads: "Do not be like them [that is, those who, when they pray, babble like pagans], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." My mind lept to this question: "Why should I pray, if my Father knows what I need before I ask him?"

I brought the question up the next morning at our breakfast. (Austin was out of town, so we deferred our Job study and considered the passage in Matthew 6.) Right away, Karl said, "God wants a relationship with us." Of course that's right, but I asked whether there is anything more to the question of why we should be praying, if God knows our needs. Beyond the idea of "relationship" for relationship's sake, why should we have to do so, especially if God is the Father.

We focused on the point that the text makes that "my Father knows what I need". We tend to go to the Father with our wants and not our needs. We often believe that our wants are our needs, but God knows our needs as we do not. We may tend to be confused, then, as we go to prayer, and maybe that is why the pagans babble: they are confused. So the prayer process becomes a sorting out event for us, as we meet the Father and begin to understand what God already understands, that is, as we begin to see our real needs as distinguised from whatever want may have driven us to seek him in prayer.

If you look back in the passage, you see the admonition Jesus makes about the optimum physical situation for prayer. "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." In discussing this sorting out process of wants versus needs, we agreed that we are to go into our room and shut the door because we need to focus on this issue and to be undistracted. If Jesus got up early in the morning to pray alone, maybe that is a clue as to what we need to do. We agreed that it is very difficult to sort wants from needs, especially in this culture where disguising wants as needs is a vital engine of our economy. In fact, it is very difficult to think about much of anything very deeply. As Van noted in his sermon this morning, we tend keep connected continuously to the culture's voices, usually with earphones. There is no silence, no space to think. This is not easy, separating wants from needs. I cannot do it well on the fly. I need to go into my room and shut the door.

So I have wants and God knows I have needs. So prayer is a sorting out wants from needs. But for what purpose?

One answer was that we might not get our needs met if we do not pray that they would be. That's a pretty good answer. "You don't get because you don't ask", to paraphrase James. We need to be sure to ask for needs, and maybe, between wants and needs, you might want to ask that, while God attends to your wants, it would be really nice if he took care of the needs as well.

A Calvinist in the group chimed right up and said, "We sort out wants from needs as we pray, so that we can conform our wills to God's will." In other words, we maybe we should just ask for our real needs, our God-known needs, to be met. That answer takes up a lot of space. Maybe that is the end of the discussion, really. So with the Spirit's help, we do the sorting in our closed door room as we meet the Father in prayer, and then we ask God for help in submitting our wills to his will. Please meet our needs, Lord, amen. That's finally arid, I think. Is there not somethnig more? Here's an answer for the sake of further discussion.

Let's say that I am earning $60,000 per year. That's clearly not enough for what I need. I go to God in prayer about the $60,000 problem. After diligent prayer, deep in my closed door room, untroubled by interruptions and distractions, I learn that I need only $30,000. I embrace that. I know that is God's will for me, that I should make do with $30,000 for what we have identified as my needs. But I leave the closed door session with a question: "What do I do with the other $30,000". I have not the slightest idea, because I went to prayer thinking I needed more than $60,000. God and I, obviously, have more to talk about. Maybe it will be about the needs of the Church for additional economic support. Well, what part of the Church? I still have more to pray about, and now the sun is coming up and need to go to work. Did I say need to go to work? Maybe I just want to go to that work. I have even more to pray about. I better get up tomorrow morning, get in the closed door room again, and start praying further.

But maybe that "excess" I have is where I come in, where the Christian life become less arid and starts to be abundant. Now that my needs are met, and I am reasonably satisfied with that, perhaps I am finally ready to partner with God in building his Kingdom with the blessings that go well beyond my needs, a junior partner of course, but one with some discretion. Partnering with God sounds good.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

You can have it all, Mary

"Emailing and posting online are certainly great; but it's not quite a human voice [I long for]," Mary commented.

Have I got not quite a human voice for you, Mary? [yes]

Having teamed up with AT&T and their researchers, I have a message for my sister. I'm not emailing or posting it, I'm delivering it with not quite a human voice here.
Cheaply calling Mary. I was going to title this post "Calling Mary Cheap", but not only would this be grammatically incorrect, it simply is not true. Moving on:

We can buy a calling card for Kenya here in downtown Miami for about 4.56621 cents per minute. There is a store-front operation in a run down building in Miami where one may purchase a card in $2, $5, and $10 denominations. The store-front operation is a fascinating place, not only for its services but also for its customers. The store wires money around the world, and I see Latino workers from the many construction sites here walk in with cash and wire the money home. Because I speak a little Spanish, I know that most of the time the money is going to Mexico. The place also serves tourists, cruise ship crews, as well as dads whose daughters are overseas.

There are also calling cards behind the counter, hanging on little hooks in multi-colors, for places all over the world. There are also small desks with computers for internet access and booths for telephones. The people behind the counter are courteous and Latino as well. I notice that they treat the customers with respect and patience, notwithstanding that many of those that are construction workers, are often hot, tired, and dirty after working all day. When I enter, my presence gets everyone's attention. But everyone is nice to me too. (In the Latin culture, having gray hair gets you something other than the more familiar urban contempt.)

Because Kenya is an unusual place for even this store, there are no calling cards hanging on hooks behind the counter. Instead, the clerk researches the right vendor on a computer screen, then takes a blank calling card of the particular vendor, slips the card into a telephonic device, and calls a number, not unlike how a credit card transaction might be accomplished through the phone lines. After just a moment, the device prints information on the blank side of the card and the clerk hands it to me. It has the 800 number for me to call and the PIN.

I called Mary a moment ago, and in the process of doing so, the computer voice at the other end first acknowledged that I had $10 in the account, the price I had paid for the card. Then it asked me to dial the number. After I "dialed" Mary's number ("dial" is archaic, I know; you have to be patient with me), the computer voice told me that I had "three hours and 39 minutes" in my account. That comes out to less than 5 cents a minute. (I think the computer had to know just where I was calling before it could compute the rate.)

When I got to the office after making the purchase, I went to the website of the vendor, Touch-n-Buy, which site is printed on the card. Apparently, one can buy the card over the web, so if you want to call Mary (and of course you want to), then you can buy some cheap minutes. You may not get the same deal that I got, because I believe the price per minute is not only based on where you are trying to reach, but also on where you are initiating the call. (The price also depends on whether you are calling to a cellphone or a land-line. Calling to a landline is cheaper, at least in Kenya. It does not matter, apparently, whether you are calling from a cellphone. When ordering the phone card, you do not specify whether you be calling to a cellphone or landline. The computer apparently takes that into account during the calling process, after you enter the number to which you are calling.)

The information that was printed on the card under the PIN also states: "services provided by: VOIP ENT AND TGI." I don't know what that tells me exactly, but obviously part of the digital trip of our conversation will be over the internet.

The problem with buying the card over the internet is that you will miss the trip to the store where I bought my card. I think I will continue to go to the store.

Friday, August 18, 2006

More Cussing
I realize that not everyone is as concerned with drilling down to the ontological basis of things as I am. That's totally cool. Some people geek out over iPods, some geek out over metaphysics.

(I geek out over both. Ok? Wanna make somethin' of it? You don't wanna mess with me, I have a brother who swings 60+ pound cannonballs over his head before breakfast. He's got my back.)

And while it's nice to have, one neededn't have a well founded epistemological & ontological reason for avoiding cussing. (Or, as Tom Wolfe labels this kind of language usage in I am Charlotte Simmons, "F*** Patois.")

I've been thinking more about the correlation between someone who's a Pro, and their non-usage of foul language. I think I've found it.

What does it take to get your work done like a Pro? What is it that the Pro has that makes them a pleasure to work with, even in really uncomfortable, dirty, messy situations? I imagine that there are a number of different factors, but one which all Pros have is: self-restraint.

Self-restraint means that you do the work that needs to be done, even if you'd much rather be watching TV & eating bon-bons. It's self-restraint that makes a person pleasant to be with, because they're not complaining every second they're in a bad spot.

Not cussing also involves self-restraint. (Duh.) I hope that it becomes second-nature to not cuss, but in part because I hear it all the time, and in part because proper thought-patterns are an ongoing work of God's gracious Spirit in me, it is not currently second-nature to me. Self-restraint, though, that is something with which God has done a good work in me (believe it or not). So the urge arises in me to cuss a blue streak, and I do my best to squash it. Similarly, urges arise in me to smack people upside the head. I also do my best to squash those as well. (Man, that would definitely not be Pro.)

So that's the correlation I see: folks who are Pros already understand and exercise the discipline of self-restraint.

Perhaps that's the flag that Dad talks about. When one comes across foul language, maybe the underlying though is, "Hmmmm. Remarkable little restraint when it comes to language. I wonder where else this person has trouble restraining themselves?"

Now, trying to think Christianly about it: One of the "reasons" I hear young Christians give in why it's fine for them to cuss is that they're beeing "free in Christ."

[I'm going to skip right over the first, most obvious, and most Biblical response: "Shall I go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! I am dead to sin." (Romans 6:1-2)]

And, it's true, they are exercising a certain flaccid kind of freedom, but really what's being demonstrated is a lacking in the Fruit of the Spirit. (May I hasten to add that I demonstrate this lack of development when I am angry and frustrated by circumstances, even if I avoid cussing about it.)

I want to be a Pro in all number of ways and it's nice to be able to draw come points of contact between that and this other, overarching project in my life: being conformed to Christ. (All this thinking, pondering & mulling brought about by one little, off-handed comment made by my friend last week!)
Paul's "Going Pro" response
Thanks for this post, Macon. It made me think about my 35 years as a lawyer, practicing mostly with firms, dealing other lawyers, judges, accountants, other professionals, business people, lay people, and the dearth of profanity I have heard. In most of these relationships, when we communicated it was purposeful, we were attempting to say something important. Profanity simply had no use, and has no use.

As I made my way through all of those relationships over the years, meeting new people, some potential allies, some potential adversaries, some perhaps very intelligent, some perhaps not, some truthful and some lying, I always looked for "tags", for clues as to character. Language was a big item, and someone's use of profanity always got my attention, my antenna went way up, and the question was "What's going on here?" And often either nothing was going on, in which case I was wasting my time, or something was goning on that demanded my more focused attention.

I spend a lot of time in public transportation, riding MetroRail almost every working day and the PeopleMover. There is a dearth of profanity among the people with whom I ride, black, white, Latin, non-Latin. As I think about when I have heard it recently, I recall young (twenties), well dressed men on the PeopleMover; vagrants; and some little black kids, urchins really, who are obviously, probably chronically, without adult supervision, and who annoy everyone else, black and white.

I like your philosophy of language, Macon, and I affirm it.
He made these comments in the "comments" section, and since they spurred my further thinking, I thought I'd re-post them here. Especially that last sentence. Clearly, he is a man of brilliant insight.
Kid pics: Some recent pictures of our two adorable kiddos.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Writely. I just got admitted to Writely. I applied quite awhile ago, after reading about it in the Wall Street Journal. I will be exploring its uses and how I can link larger documents to my blog. I don't recall reading about it on Sean's blog. (Sean, did I scoop you on this?? Could that be possible??)

UPDATE: Nooop, not possible. Sean blogged on this in April. I did search his blog for "Writely" before saying such an audacious thing, but the search feature didn't work. Nor did the link I tried to copy over here. But he's into Writely.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Going Pro
A friend of mine recently mentioned that he thought that cussing wasn't "Pro," (as in slang meaning, "cool & professional") and that he wanted to be a Pro, and so was going to cut down on his cussing. (This friend, btw, is one of the more brilliant & gifted folks that I know.)

I've been considering the underpinnings of cussing/foul language since I was in junior high. That's when I first began to hear it used in earnest. (Though "cussing in earnest" is kind of a funny thing to say.) In Junior High & High School, it was clearly used as a proxy for showing one was "grown up." (It indicates one is "grown up" about as much as watching an "adult" film indicates that one is an adult, imho.)

In College, a new justification arose: cultural relativity. (It's no coincidence that sophomoric ideas originate in the same institutions which house Sophomores.) That argument went something like this: In England, "bloody" is a cussword, but here it doesn't mean the same thing, the same thing with the word "shag." So if I say, "bloody" here, how will you know if I mean the "bad" or the "good" kind? It works the same way with American cussing: somewhere in the world (perhaps even across the tracks in our very city!) this word is not as bad as you think it is. Therefore, it doesn't matter if I use it myself.

There was also the Christian sub-culture pheonomena whereby folks who had been fairly obedient Christians their whole lives were suddenly discovering that they could cuss, and nothing would obviously happen as a result. When you're a student, you don't notice it as much, but when you work with College students for more than 3 years, it's astounding the patterns that emerge. Every Christian who starts cussing at college decides that they're the first ones to be so cosmopolitan and sophisticated to see cussing for what it is: merely a social convention that has no bearing on anything in their souls, especially if it helps them deal with their own perceived social pressure.

My little corner of the business world puts me in touch with a number of business strata: lawyers, truckers, computer geeks, bankers, internet rock-stars, actual rock-stars, it's actually quite an interesting and varied cross section. In every category there are people that are a pleasure to work with, who are competent, thoughtful, cool under pressure, and always performing at a high level: the Pros. And there are those who always make excuses for their inability to get the job done, who can't seem to be on time for their appointments, who only half-way do a job before calling it a day, and who are generally not a pleasure to be around: the un-Pros.

And as I look across my personal landscape, I find that my friend is correct about cussing and being "Pro." The Pros, by and large, do not cuss. I don't think it's causal, but I do think that whatever it is that makes them a Pro is also affecting how they make use of language.

I've come across critiques of cussing which amount to mainly an aesthetic critique along the lines of: cussing is a quick and dirty use of the language, which intelligent and educated people avoid.

And while I agree that cussing is the above, I don't see how this is compelling to anyone at all. That's the problem with aesthetic critiques: one can easily say, "you like chocolate, I like vanilla. Leave me alone." This critique falls into the same category of why one ought to wear matched clothes: you look better in them. Well, so what? Perhaps I'm saying something about society with my unmatched clothes. In fact, perhaps my life is one big performance art piece. Didja think about that, mister "no more cussing"?

But I do have an epistemological & ontological critique. It's merely this: words have meaning. That is when I say, "love" it has a specific meaning, even though it happens to be an English word and even though there are people who might utter the same phonemes in the same order in a different language and so mean something different.

Words point to something beyond themselves, something real & true. If they don't, we have a word for that, too. Those are called, "lies."

I think that this is a particularly Christianly way to approach language, as we depend upon human language to communicate eternal & foundational ideas, the first of which is, "Jesus is Lord." (If you want to try to tell me that the language doesn't matter, that it's the "Spirit's" work to do that, then think of it this way: in the same way that Flesh & Spirit work together in the Christian life, so too do Words & the Spirit. You can't get around this problem by practicing a kind of language doecitism.)

So to justify cussing with cultural relativity is to undermine the very tools we use to commuincate anything. Not so much in the sense that if one cusses too much, you won't be able to communicate. Of course not.

But our language usage affects how we think, quite literally. Thinking logically & carefully over time will help you think logically & carefully over time. If you've spent any time doing computer programming, you know that, after a while, you begin to see the universe as an endless series of commands, loops, input & output variables, and the like. If you spend a lot of time reading Jane Austen, you find yourself speaking with Austen-like phrasing. Words and thoughts become you. There is a conforming of your mind, if you will, to what you're putting in front of it. Physiologically your brain is making connections and reinforcing neural pathways. Seriously!

So why would a Christian use language in such a way as to train themselves that words are meaningless, or, at best, are so flexible as to mean whatever I'd like for them to mean, as opposed to using words as tools with specific uses in order to communicate? I don't know. It seems dumb to me.

There are tons of folks who believe there is no place for words to "point", that there is no meaning to words besides what we agree in this room that such words mean. I'm not out to persuade those folks. (This means you, Richard Rorty!) Christians cannot coherently hold such a view, so I'm merely working to persuade these fellow travelers.

At the end of the day, though, I am in agreement with my friend. Cussing is so amateur. It just isn't Pro.
Mrs. Crocker's Barbecue Sauce. Carol's sister, Mary Ann, sent us their mother's receipe for barbecue sauce. Those Crocker women can cook! The recipe is here over at Dove Avenue Recipes
Welcome to a new baby!!!

Micah James Sewell, son to Justin and Kristen Sewell and younger brother to Noah and Caleb Sewell, was born this morning at 7:40am. He was 7 lbs 9 ozs, 21 inches long, with a little bit of some sandy blondish hair. He swallowed some amniotic fluid which caused some initial difficulty breathing, but he is doing quite well now. Justin says Micah is very pink and definitely does not have any jaundice (which Noah and Aidan both did).

Anyways, I just wanted to celebrate and share with you all the arrival of my new nephew. Woo-hoo!!!

(for anyone who is wondering who Justin and Kristen are--Justin is one of my older brothers).

*just to be absolutely correct, it turns out that Micah was born at 7:41, not 7:40...oops!
Heterogenous Islam. This piece by Farrukh Dhondy at OpinionJournal.com supports the view that Al-Queda does not define Islam, and its well worth reading. I was not aware of the "Sufi and Barelvi strands as opposed to Whhabism and the Shiite-Iranian animus", and probably need to be.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Israel and Hezbollah. Mort Zuckerman is the only one who sits on screen-left of the McLaughlin Group who has ever made any sense to me. That is, he seems to inhabit the real world, although he is not a conservative. He writes the end of issue editorial for US News & World Report, to which my mother subscribes; she occasionally gives the magazine to me when she finishes. (The August 14-21, 2006, issue with a picture of George Washington on the cover is particularly interesting, as it contains many articles, some short and some a little longer, on "Who Was Really First?" The article on who discovered DNA will make you mad, especially if you are a woman.)

Zuckerman writes a winning editorial on Israel and Hezbollah, dense with an account of recent history, a discipline to which the post-modernist elite gives no credance.
What?! Lamont estimates that he is worth "between $90 million and $300 million", according to a report from MSNBC. You mean he has no better idea than that? Is it that large numbers baffle him? Or is it that he has no interest in such matters? On second thought, a guy look this would be right at home in the Senate.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I got tagged:
and so shall some of you!
Recently, on sweetpea's blog, I got tagged to do a book list. I posted my response in her comments section, but Macon encouraged me to post it here as well.

1. One book that changed your life: "More Than Equals" by John Perkins, Jr., and Chris Rice. This really opened my eyes to more of what it is like to be African American in America. It also really challenged me to see how the brokenness of relationship between black and white Christians is not a reflection of the wholeness of relationship God has made possible through Christ, and that it damages the way people see the gospel since they do not see it being applied here very often in real and transforming ways.

2. One book that you've read more than once: (okay, so I am a confessed bibliophile and have read dozens of books repeatedly...in fact, I have read many series of books probably 5 times at least...so, I am having trouble answering this one....) I may have to go ahead and say the Chronicles of Narnia, though (like most everyone else) because they are the books that I tend to find something new in every time and because I read them once a year...not many series receive quite that much commitment from me.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island: Like many others, I think the first book I'd want would be the Bible, but if I could choose something in addition, I think I might choose "The Count of Monte Cristo" (the unabridged version). It is long, keeps my interest, and I enjoy seeing this man struggle with his interpretation of justice and what it means to be God's representative in the world. I think he's totally wrong for most the book since he sees himself as God's arm of justice and God as distant and uninvolved--but I enjoy him coming to learn differently.

4. One book that made you laugh: This may seem strange, but the book that is coming to mind is "Fellowship of the Ring"...mainly because Pippin and Merry are so much fun, and because the laughter feels deep and rich.

5. One book that made you cry: hmmmmm...many many books fit this criteria...I guess I'll go with one of my sci-fi favorites: "Ashes of Victory" by David Weber. There is this point in the story where Honor's parents believe that she is dead, and the scene where they discover that she is not and get to reunite with her makes me almost sob every time...especially because there is such a deep love between Honor and her father.

6. One book that you wish had been written: (is this supposed to be a book that was not written, but which covers a subject that I would like to know more about?) If that's the case, then I would enjoy a book that looks at and integrates a trinitarian theology as expressed by Torrance with human development as beings made in the image of said Trinity.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: most any book that says we should throw out all current dating practices and only date like they did in biblical times. First of all, scripture doesn't really show us much about this. Secondly, we live in an entirely different society at this point. Thirdly, yes, there are many current dating practices that are deeply in error, but one may correct those without chucking the idea of "dating" altogether. (I'm sorry that was a bit of a rant...I used to work in college ministry, and this was often a topic of great angst, filled with many many misunderstandings about the Bible).

8. One book that you're currently reading: Okay, because I don't want to give another sci-fi answer, and because the other book I am currently reading has been sitting on the shelf for at least two weeks, I will say that one book I am currently reading is "Your Pregnancy Week by Week"--much more information that "What to Expect When You're Expecting".

9. One book that you've been meaning to read: "The Denial of Death" by Becker. This is actually the book that I have begun but which has been sitting on my shelf. My husband recently read this and wants to discuss it. Apparently it looks at how the fear of and denial of death is a huge underpinning for most everything in our lives as individuals and how that affects society. It looks quite deeply at psychoanalysis as well, noting its benefits and limitations.

10. Now tag 5 people: I tag Lindsay C, Carol, Mary, Katy O, and Scott McScootchie (Scott--don't worry about being the only male on this list. I just realized that the male Stokes usually post about what they are reading already, so I thought I would bring in someone whose answers I couldn't guess at).

Feel free to respond with your lists in the comments.
Monday, Monday, August 14. Whew! Today is the first day of public school here in Miami-Dade, and that means summer is over! I don't think I have ever had one quite so full. For me, at least, it started about June 29, when we left for Eastman, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Montreat, Forest City, and Columbia; continued during Mary's layover in Miami Springs and serial visits by Macon, Kellsey and Aidan and by Walter Morgan; and it came to a climax as Mary checked in at MIA for the journey to Kenya. In the meanwhile, the renovation pace picked up measurably, and maybe we will be finished by the new year.

I checked this morning, and Carol was still there in the bed, sleeping beside me, so our marriage survived. (You don't take that sort of thing for granted, gentlemen.)

At the office it has been busy too. The summer saw Juan finally run up the white flag and say the work load was starting to get beyond him. That was a sort of triumph for me, as one of my major goals was to get him hands and feet into our practice and to redefine "our practice" to mean the practice that belongs to Jane, Mickey, Juan, and me. Getting his plate full was a challenge. He is energetic, innovative, smart and a great delegator.

We also saw Sue migrate from legal secretary to paralegal, her goal when coming to the firm. She has transformed Mickey's litigation practice and she is wonderfully challenged by the intensity of her work. Sue came to us a couple of years ago from the freight forwarding sector, where she was a manager for a multinational firm that did not know how to treat its employees. She decided to leave the freight forwarding industry, surveyed alternative careers, decided on being a paralegal, and enrolled in the program at FIU. She continued in the program when she started working for us, and completed it.

We lost a great legal assistant when the the Landon firm (also known in these parts as "Brand X") hired away Adrya. But we landed on our feet with Svetlana, whom my assistant Jessica is training, and Jessica herself is taking on more and more leadership responsibility.

The Thatcher Foundation, one of our major clients, moved its offices into our suite, as its executive director retired. Nancy, my longtime paralegal and friend, will be assuming many of the executive director's functions while continuing to be a star player in the firm for many of our other clients. We may be hiring an assistant with bookkeeper level skills to help her with that work, and we are creating a job profile that may allow a good bit of the work to be done from someone's home, given our Citrix powered remote capabilities.

We are looking for a receptionist/word processor. This is an "entry level" position. We have moved people who have started at the position to legal secretary and then to paralegal. So if you know anyone who might be interested, let me know.

We have changed our compensation approach, forced in part by wage and hour laws. Once upon a time, we paid staff for a 35 hour work week, and a sort of "9 to 5" mentality reigned, although some staff worked over-time or came in early, simply because they wanted to work that way. We would, of course, pay for the over time. Now we have 35 hours per week as our required minimum, but we have an informal policy of unlimited overtime. Carol identified, acquired, and implemented the software to allow staff to sign in and to sign out on the computer as they determine within minimum limits when to work. One advantage is that we are more competitive with firms that advertise a salary that looks better than ours but is on a 40 hour work week basis. People understand the difference between 35 and 40 hours intellectually, but the total salary comparison seems to have an affect on their hearts. So now we can give staff a choice on how much they want to make and its easier for their hearts to compare us to the marketplace.

Things have been popping at church too. This week Van is going to the Presbyterian Global Mission conference in Atlanta, where the moderates and evangelicals of the PCUSA are going to ponder what to do about the direction that the bureaucratic "elite" want to take us. We learned from Walter that Morgan will be attending as well, along with their minister and some other elders.

Catalyst, the hip-hop ministry of Greater Miami Youth for Christ is moving its site to our church, beginning September 9. This summer our youth minister, Pepe, moved over to GMYFC and became its director of Campus Life ministries, the high school ministry arm of GMYFC, while retaining his involvement in the sort of work in Miami Springs with our high school and neighborhoods that he has been doing out of our church for the past five or more years. This is a great upgrade for Pepe. He has many years of experience that he will be able to leverage into younger staff at GMYFC, and he will retain his connection with our church all the while.

Our Wednesday Night Live program at church will be resuming, and there are some changes there. We will be separating the men and women into separate "Bible Study" groups, except we won't call the men's group a "Bible Study" but something like "Bunch of Guys", so that we are free to do some action things that are fun and manly and helpful, such as Habitat and other mission projects. And maybe we will go to the shooting range and get lectures from motorcycle safety experts - who knows. But we want to get the guys together without the girls, let our brother Jesus do his work with us, and see what happens. I think it will be fun.

In my personal life, I have become chairman of the board of GMYFC, mainly because its "my turn", I think. Let me put that another way: mainly because God has said that its my turn, despite my grave misgivings about time and gifts. But I had a great meeting with Andy, the exec, last week, and we will be innovating with some ideas that we discovered that both of us had been percolating. So some prayer would be very helpful from the Kith & Kin as I assume that leadership role.

So that's the word from Miami Springs, where most everyone is not blue-eyed and blond haired anymore, which is perfectly fine, and out our front door lays a mission field.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Gadget Alert! From the August 2006 Popular Mechanics:

Every car made since 1996 has an OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostics) connector underdash. It's where the mechanic plugs in his scan tool to check your car's health. A pro-grade scan tool can cost thousands. CarMD costs $90, which is close to what a mechanic would charge you to use his scanner to diagnose a problem. The CarMD uses the memory and screen on a Windows-based computer to display the data from your car's engine management system and to look up information from CarMD's Web site. There you can find an explanation of what those trouble codes really mean, and some insight into what might be causing them. carmd.com
Retrofit for E85. Many of the GM motor vehicles andsome Fords are now being manufactured as Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFV) that can run on E85 (ethanol/gasoline mix) efficiently and without damaging the engine and fuel lines. The question is whether there is a retrofit solution for the rest of us. For perhaps an answer, check here and here and, for a negative view on retrofitting here (down the page a bit).

Look at the question this way: For every dollar I spend on gasoline, a piece of that dollar goes to Hezbolla and Al-Queda, to Iran and to Venezuela. We must do something about the problem.
Middle Class Flight from South Florida. When we dropped off the infamous U-Haul trailer in Hialeah, after driving it down from NC with Mary's stuff (with the door shut this time), the manager of the U-Haul HQ for Miami-Dade told me that there is a discount to bring a "one-way" into Miami and a premium to "one-way" out of it. This suggested to me that more from the middle classes are moving out of Miami than are moving in. This article in today's Miami Herald bears that out. Among other things, this makes it difficult to recruit people in "full time Christian service", such as ministers, church musicians, staff for IVCF and Youth for Christ. At the risk of cliche, the middle class is the backbone of America.
Upgrading Dove Ave: a Report. The building boom having peaked about two months ago in Miami, more workers have become available to our contractor and we have seen a quickening of the pace of our renovations, which renovations commenced about three weeks after Mary entered junior high (or it feels that way). The roof is on and all the windows are in. We expect that the workers will break through the south wall of the kitchen early this week, and, anticipating that, we have removed the appliances that we will keep, and they are sitting in the living room. (We are now using mostly paper plates and a microwave we bought for the occasion, our regular one being built into one of the units we removed.) As I watched the Dolphins/Jaguar game last night, Carol was on the internet picking out the new toilet. (Yes, it was Saturday night. No, the honeymoon is not over. Now and then it takes time off.) I have started to get excited about the new bedroom, because we plan to move to it the Voice of Miami Springs (that is, amateur radio station K4JSU) from Mary's room. The radio shack will be far enough away from our bedroom that I can get on early in the morning and not disturb Carol.
Did you mean to say that? Schmuck, putz, dork, each of these words I hear people use from time to time, not infrequently younger women. Each of those words is a pejorative, yes. But the etymology of each is the male member. I wince when I hear any of those words used in polite company.
Mary's in Kenya. With a new post.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

God Protects Babies, Drunks, and Incompetent Dads. The accompanying photo, taken June 28, shows the back of a U-Haul trailer parked in front of the house of my sister in law, Mary Ann. As you can see, the trailer's door, a sort of roll-top affair that pulls down from the top like a garage door, is open. You can see that the trailer is packed. It is packed full of Mary's possessions, and we are in front of Mary Ann's house in Greensboro after driving there from Winston-Salem, a trip of 20 miles or so over six lane superhighways. You are probably wondering what I am doing in the photo (No, I am not trying to figure out why I can't pull my shorts all the way up to my armpits, despite my best efforts). I am praying. I am giving thanks to the Lord for saving us from an utter disaster. I had forgotten to pull the door down when we finished packing in Winston-Salem. We drove the entire way with the back of the trailer completely open, just as you see it!

Gender Equality and AIDS in Africa. Note the backhand slap at Christianity in this MSM article about a recent study linking low AIDS incidence with gender equality. Jesus empowers women, a point that the non-Christian culture either ignores or denies outright. But the study itself makes a lot of sense.
Eyes Wide Open. Meteor showers tonight.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Eat Your Broccoli. Chew Your Food. Because of the risk of prostate cancer in men over 50, the medical authorities recommend a yearly exam. Yesterday I paid a visit to my friendly urologist. Very friendly urologist. (TMI alert!) He gave me good news, but directed me to have a PSA test just to be sure. In part I mention this so that the younger men who read the blog can be aware that life remains interesting after 50.

The other reason I mention this is to lay a predicate for this link, an article that describes a study of the good effects of cruciferous veggies. The study indicates how good it is not only to eat your broccoli, but also to chew it, good for prostate health and good for warding off other cancers as well.

I continue to attend Weight Watchers, and so I can report that veggies cost you nothing in terms of "points", that is in terms of calories.

UPDATE: I weighed in at 160.5 at the WW meeting Thursday. I'm trying to get back to my goal weight of 155. Its hard. On the other hand, I was at 182 when I started with WW two years ago. What a difference in the way I feel!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Democracy in the Middle East. In a previous post, I linked to some articles where pessimism about democracy in the Middle East abounds. This op-ed piece in yesterday's WSJ is a worthy rejoinder.
Mary's OK, but. She's stuck at Heathrow with this. Check her blog.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fantastic Deals!




On a bit of a light note:

I decided on a whim today to go and look at "Big Boy" furniture for Aidan at the Pottery Barn outlet about 30 minutes south of us in San Marcos. What a great thing that I did. I was able to buy $1500 worth of furniture for $313!!!!

Crazy!!! What a steal! I got a very cute headboard with stars in it and a dresser. The dresser in the picture is a honey wood color, but the one I got is red. It will be very cute with the motorcycle bedding that I got via the internet.

I don't know if anyone else out there gets as excited as I do about finding such excellent deals on quality items that you would otherwise not even consider buying, but I thought this was very fun! Let's hear it for outlet malls! Hip Hip Hooray!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Biofuel. One of the men in my Friday Morning breakfast group is Karl, a non-lawyer who looks at the world quite differently than I do. He is an original thinker, and being so he has not quite found his niche. But he brings a point of view that is original and thought provoking. (I referred to Karl in an earlier post, when I mentioned the carbon catalyst device he is selling.)

On Friday, Karl mentioned several ideas that he knew about "early" and that later turned into sources of great wealth for people who were able to develop them and bring them to market. For example, he told us the story about how MCI got started, when it got the idea of buying long-distance minutes from ATT, under a bulk discount program, and then reselling those minutes to the consumer. According to Karl, ATT had been doing discount selling of bulk LD minutes to big corporations, such as Ford and GM, for years, and the MCI people got the idea of doing that as well, except that, instead of using the minutes itself, reselling those minutes in the consumer market and making a tiny profit on each minute. Karl said he knew about that idea early on.

I asked him what new ideas where "out there" now, and he immediately mentioned sweet sorghum as a source of biofuel. He said that sweet sorghum grows anywhere and is as good a source of ethanol as corn, if not better. Sure enough, sweet sorghum is prominent in the biofuel conversation. (Note especially the author of the article to which the link refers. Is that a real school with which the author is affiliated? Do they have sports there? Do they ever play anyone in football worth mentioning?)

Speaking of ethanol, someone at the table mentioned that Wal-Mart at its Hialeah Superstore has installed an ethanol pump at its gas station. A light bulb went on: If Karl and Wal-Mart are on parallel tracks, maybe we've got something here.

So I've been looking around the 'net to see what's going on, as you can already see. I found several sites, but a good one to start with is the Renewable Fuels Association website. As I explored that site, I saw, among other things, that there are dozens of ethanol refineries being built in the "seed belt", especially in Indiana. The major company that is doing a lot of the construction of these plants is Broin & Associates. Maybe if I were a young man and had some contacts in, say, Iowa, I would look into this. There is a lot of cheap real estate out there and, maybe, biofuel is the fuel of tomorrow.

Finally, take a look at this lecture on ethanol fueled automobiles over at Google, entitled "Think Outside the Barrel". Very iinteresting.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Iraq, Israel, and the United States.

From Diana West in the Washington Times:

Then, of course, there's Iraq, a nation of warring Islamic tribes safeguarded only and barely by the continued presence of American forces, not to mention billions of taxpayer dollars. To date, Iraq's prime minister, president, two vice presidents, assorted imams, and much of its newly free media have publicly condemned one party -- Israel. The fractiously sectarian Iraqi parliament has even come together in rare and unanimous solidarity to condemn the Jewish state. When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed Congress last month, he declared Iraq to be on "the front line" of the war on terror, and proclaimed Iraqis to be America's "allies in the war on terror." But he also pointedly failed to condemn Hezbollah terrorism -- or, it seems safe to presume, to consider Hezbollah a terrorist group. Like a Mel Gibson bender, this should make us think. Can the United States and Mr. al-Maliki really be talking about the same "terror" war?

Our elites never ask such a question, maybe because it leads to another. Does propping up in Iraq what amounts to a proto-Shariah state that is reflexively anti-Israel if not reflexively pro-Hezbollah constitute victory in the "war on terror"? Call me crazy, but I don't think so. We've already had our victory in Iraq by overthrowing Saddam Hussein. We won't be able to win again until we recognize that our politically correct but factually mistaken view of the Islamic world is out of focus. When we can't see victory on the other side of the cultural divide, we need to look elsewhere.

UPDATE: More of the same. And even more.
Family Roots


Here is a link to an article in the Atlanta newspaper about a Gwinnett County, GA family with roots parallel to some of the Stokes Kin. Hope you enjoy it. If it requires a login to the AJC, I apologize.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Time Allotment Formula for a Successful Marriage. The following appeals to me - I like formulas and menus that I can set in place and not think about anymore.

Whatever the focus of your [exclusive] time together [as husband and wife], be sure to set it aside. Our guideline for your private relationship - romantic and physical - is fifteen minutes per day, one evening per week, one day per month, and one weekend per quarter. We suspect following that formula for time to connect and care will leave both of you happy and satisfied.

From Penner, Clifford & Joyce, The Married Guy's Guide to Great Sex - Building a Passionate, Intimate, and Fun Love Life.

I suspect so!
What is "AST"? As I track Tropical Storm Chris and read the National Hurricane Center advisories, I note that the time that a given advisory is issued is "AST", and not "EST". AST means "Atlantic Standard Time", and it is an hour earlier than Eastern Standard Time.

But to make things more confusing, those of us who live in Florida are, during the summer months, that is during the hurricane months, on EDT. EDT is Eastern Daylight Time. (I thought we were on "Daylight Savings Time", but they eliminated the "Savings" from the appellation. This would be appropriate, because the time change in the summer, in my humble opinion, saves nothing. I could be wrong about this, however.) EDT is an hour earlier than EST and, therefore, it is the same time as AST.

There is Atlantic Daylight Time or ADT. But the website to which I linked advises that ADT is only used in some parts of Canada, not down where hurricanes roam.

So, when the National Hurricane Center posts an advisory during the summer months at a given "AST" time, its the same as "EDT" time here in Florida. I think it would be fine for the National Hurricane Center to post its advisories with the note that the given time is "AST and EDT".

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"Crash". I saw this movie on DVD with Mary last night. (Alert! Alert! If you haven't seen it.) I mentioned this movie to my partners today. Juan and Mickey had seen it, and they thought it was simply terrific. Juan said he saw it on DVD one Saturday and then immediately viewed it again. Mary tells me it won an Adademy Award for Best Picture last time.

I dunno.

It was certainly well made. But what a picture of American culture it paints! I could only think of it being used by the Islamists as propaganda. It is propaganda, of course, for a particular world view. I guess. But what an entertainment to go 'round the world, purportedly telling everyone what we "really" look like together.

My partners thought that it showed how there is good in everyone, because, for example, the brutal, bigoted cop the next day after violating a woman in front of her husband during a traffic stop heroically saves the woman from certain death. Or the street punk, whose life work is hijacking automobiles at gun point at busy intersections, but who lets loose a family of illegal immigrants he finds in the back of a van he has stolen, when he apparently could have sold the illegals into some sort of slavery (here in the US, of course) for $500 a head. That sort of moral anthopology really doesn't cut it, I'm afraid, but it obviously has great appeal to some very intelligent people. And I will concede that in caricature, at least, it shows aspects of American culture that are profoundly ugly, greed, corruption, sexual immorality, and especially racism. But is the fascination with which one watches this movie a benign sort of entertainment or is it something more like voyeurism, in a way that movies generally are not?

I have to say a word about the sub-plot involving the Persian complete idiot who buys a handgun for "protection" and, of course, misuses it with potentially disastrous consequences, consequences that, Hollywood-style, fail to occur because of a deus-ex-machina circumstance that, although I didn't anticipate it, I figured out immediately. The subtext here is that we just cannot let guns be purchased so freely, especially by people who are not criminals and wish to be law-abiding and want a gun simply to protect themselves and their property. The problem is that these sorts of people will fly off the handle and go shoot some innocent person. So we cannot have citizens buying guns.(Interestingly, the people who seemed to handle the guns most responsibly, within, of course, the limits of their profession, were the two street punks, one of whom is killed by a white policeman who mistakes an innocent move by the street punk "victim" as an attempt by the victim to go for a gun of his own.)

Maybe I am getting to old and too cynical to have the right sort of admiration for a film like this. But I think the best thing that can be said for it, beyond its impressive crafting, is that it prevented Brokeback Mountain from getting the Oscar. or so I am told.

UPDATE: Sweetpea alerted me to a post on her husband's blog about Crash, and its well worth reading. (As are the other very interesting posts on that blog.)
Keeping (Getting)the Extra Weight Off. Sean is working on his weight issues, and that's a good thing. I continue to struggle myself, and still go to Weight Watcher's as often as I can. (I'm still about 7 pounds above my target weight of 155. I achieved that goal early last year and become a "lifetime" WW member, but then I slid off. It is definitely not easy.)

One of the myths of weight control is that it can be dealt with through exercise. There is a lawyer who works in the firm across from ours who is about six feet tall and must weigh 280 pounds or more. (He looks like a blown up balloon.) He frequently climbs the stairway to our floor (the 17th floor). I often see him huffing and puffing, but obviously proud of himself, as he finishes one of these treks. One of these days we will find him dead in the stairwell with a heart attack. He obviously doesn't get it. Exercise is part of a weight loss/weight maintenance/healthy life program, but it is not a substitute for it. You would be amazed how much exercise it takes to burn a calorie.

Here's a link with some good ideas that Kathy Michelson, our WW person, sent to the folks in her group.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Preach it!

It is men who make the major sacrifice. The man renounces his dreams of short-term sexual freedom and self-fulfillment - his male sexuality and self expression - in order to serve a woman and family for a lifetime. It is a traumatic act of giving up his most profound yearning, his bent for the hunt and the chase, the motorbike and the open road, . . . and immediate excitements. . . . This male sacrifice . . . is essential to civilization.

George Gilder in Men and Marriage, as quoted in Penner, Clifford & Joyce, The Married Guy's Guide to Great Sex - Building a Passionate, Intimate, and Fun Love Life.